Banned List Testing: Rules and Possibilities

Are you a Quiet Speculation member?

If not, now is a perfect time to join up! Our powerful tools, breaking-news analysis, and exclusive Discord channel will make sure you stay up to date and ahead of the curve.

My article about testing Stoneforge Mystic generated a lot of conversation, both here on Modern Nexus and elsewhere. Judging by the reaction, people really do want some actual data and scientific method brought into discussions of the Modern banned list. Which means that I've got a lot of work to do.


But I also know that if I don't establish some guidelines, I'll have to rehash the same arguments every time. So what I'm going to do today is establish my permanent methodology going forward, and set the ground rules. I don't expect my methods will make everyone happy. I am only one man, and I have limited time and resources with which to test. Thus I have to make compromises.

Deck Selection

It is impossible to adequately test against every deck in Modern. It is extremely impractical to test against all of Tier 1. I will be strategic about the deck I use to test a card, and the decks I play against—to yield not only the most representative results, but also the most useful results. I will never use decks where the impact of a banned card is expected to be indeterminate or mediocre. It's a waste of my time and yours to produce medium results. All decks will be built based on archetypes being played in the metagame at the time I start testing.


The Test Deck

Whenever possible, the test deck will be one that got a card banned in the first place, updated for current Modern. When that isn't possible I will use a deck that the banned card is likely to improve by a considerable amount. There will be a known list (hopefully played to reasonable finishes) for establishing my baseline win percentage, and an "improved" version of that list for the actual test. This is how I approached the testing of Stoneforge Mystic.

The reason is simple: the purpose of this exercise is to determine if known or suspected Ponderbroken cards are still broken. For example, testing Ponder in Jeskai would not produce very interesting or helpful results. The deck currently plays Serum Visions, and Ponder is better than Visions. Therefore we would expect Jeskai's overall win percentage to improve. However, Jeskai is a control deck that will win slowly. Even with the consistency boost from the second-best cantrip in Magic, the change will not be that dramatic and our conclusion would be weak. Storm or Ad Nauseam, on the other hand, will benefit far more from an additional cantrip than a fair deck would. Those archetypes are a far better indicator of whether or not Ponder is safe to unban (I firmly believe it isn't, just for the record).

Think about the issue like this: Wizards doesn't ban cards just because of power level. It bans because of degeneracy or oppression. It is very hard for a truly fair deck to be either. Unless they're Jund with Bloodbraid Elf and Deathrite Shaman. The fair uses of a card are not on trial—what is, is whether they're still as unfair as before. If we want to evaluate that aspect, we must try to put the card in an unfair shell. This may not always be possible, but I will preference less fair shells over more fair ones.

The Gauntlet

My testing gauntlet will be a representative selection of decks from all ends of the spectrum. I will prefer Tier 1 decks whenever possible, though for unfair combo decks I will most likely need to dip into Tier 2. These are decks with proven power and resilience, and they will do the best job of teasing out a banned card's power. A lower-tier deck may have interesting gameplay with a banned card, but it will not indicate the actual strength of the card in the overall metagame. If we want to learn what is the best, we must play the best.

Ad NauseamI want to see how the full spectrum from the truly fair, to the "fair" or pseudo-fair, to the unfair, will be affected. A broadly improved win percentage may indicate that the card is oppressive. A more localized impact might signal a metagame shift which may or may not be welcome. This is also the only way I can try to model the total reaction that a card will have on Modern.

When I build gauntlet decks they will all be "average" builds of the currently played decks as of the moment I start the testing. I will not try to adapt the gauntlet decks to the banned card. The answer why is twofold. First, I don't want to take the time to try and figure out how a deck would react. I'm not a normal player of any of these decks, and my perceptions may not be in line with the reality of the decks' strategic considerations. If I guess and get it wrong it will ruin the results.

The second reason follows from the first: the need to limit variables. For any experiment to be scientifically valid, you need to focus your testing on as few variables as possible. In economics, we use graphs with several curves on them to describe supply and demand. If you shift a single curve, say supply, the results are easy to quantify and predict. If you shift both curves the results become indeterminate, dependent on the magnitude of the shifts. If I start adapting the gauntlet decks, I add in uncertainty that might mask the real impact behind an improperly built test deck. Thus I will stick to known knowns.

Testing Procedure

To obtain valid results, I will use the exact same procedure for each card. Once I begin testing with one configuration I will never change that configuration, lest it invalidate my previous data. I am not so committed to this series that I'm willing to redo hundreds of datapoints because of a new methodological revelation.

To try and prevent suboptimal builds, I will goldfish and playtest the decks before testing begins. This will also help me learn the decks to reduce play mistakes affecting the results. Some will happen regardless, but it should be small enough not to impact the end result.

Every test session will begin with at least 10 practice matches so that whoever I've roped into this madness and I can get a feel for the matchup. We will then play 50 matches with the baseline deck and 50 with the test deck. For Magic Online testing misclicks will be taken into account. If they're correctable through a change in play, we will do so—otherwise the match will be thrown out. All testing sessions for a given deck will take place as close together as possible.

The Test Subjects

Now to the really critical part: what am I actually willing to test? Not every card on the banlist needs to be tested. It should be obvious why Hypergenesis, Rite of Flame, Dread Return, or Cloudpost will not and should not ever be freed. Proven broken cards are not up for consideration; realistic options only please. Of the less obvious ones, some are still not up for consideration.

No Jund Cards!

Punishing FireI will not be testing Bloodbraid Elf, Deathrite Shaman, or Punishing Fire. Hard no. Absolutely not. I don't care how much you whine or how good your arguments are, up to and including masters theses on the impact of Bloodbraid Elf's unbanning on global happiness. I will not test them.

Jund is a very good deck. It has been since Modern's inception. The only times it hasn't been Tier 1 were when something very odd was going on in the metagame. It has reached Tier 0 levels in the past when it had access to some of the banned cards. It doesn't need any more toys, so these overpowered cards can stay where they are.

Stop. Be honest with yourself. Will the boost to whatever deck you care to name actually be greater than the boost Jund receives? No. It won't. Jund doesn't need a boost, and no deck will benefit enough to justify that. No Jund cards.

No Top!

I know all you Miracles players out there want to oppress Modern too. I hear your arguments about boosting control and the ubiquity of Abrupt Decay. The answer to Sensei's Divining Top is no.

The frustration caused by the Counter-Top lock is only one part of my concerns. It isn't the experienced Miracles players I have an issue with—it's the derps. Those fools who waste time looking at the same three cards over and over again, dragging out the game ad infinatum. Legacy tournaments always run late thanks to Top players, and it just gets worse the more inexperienced the players are. For the sake of tournament run times, Top should stay banned. This is also why I will not look at Second Sunrise. I have better things to do than watch you play with yourself.

No Twin or Pod

Splinter Twin was a good deck. I think banning it was a mistake. We know what would happen if it were unbanned. There's nothing interesting or new to learn here. Birthing Pod falls under the same category.

Cards I Will Consider

I wouldn't choose any of these cards myself, but if there's enough community interest and strong arguments are made, I'm willing to try them.

  • The Artifact Lands - Many Affinity players I know say that Affinity doesn't want these anymore. The only decks I can imagine wanting them are Eggs and maybe Thopter combo. I have no interest in trying them out, but I will relent if the outcry is sufficient.
  • Green Sun's Zenith - I suspect that repeated tutoring and mana acceleration is just as powerful and warping now as it was when this was axed. Still, if a really good argument is backed by overwhelming support, I'll give it a try.
  • Preordain - Preordain and Ponder were banned for making combo too consistent. I suspect this will still be the case, but I am willing to consider experimenting with the weaker of the two. If it's too strong, Ponder definitely is, so consider improved Serum Visions the gatekeeper to that test.

Cards I'm Actively Interested In

This is not a declaration that I will test every single card listed here. Merely that I would do so without needing convincing. Which ones I ultimately test will be determined by time and other constraints.

  • Chrome Mox - Fast mana is generally a bad idea, but many have complained about Affinity getting the only mox in Modern. I can see an argument that if everyone had access to the more balanced mox it would reduce Affinity's speed advantage. I think that the unfair uses will still be greater and it will empower combo far more than other decks, but that is pure speculation that should be evaluated.
  • Dark Depths - Ghost Quarter is very much a card these days, as is Path to Exile. Blood Moon also sees extensive play, unlike back in Extended. Marit Lage may not be the terror that it once was.
  • Dig Through Time - Dig was always overshadowed by Treasure Cruise and never really got an opportunity to prove itself in Modern. Splinter Twin was the best argument for banning the card, but with that combo gone it might be okay to free Dig. At the very least it deserves a trial.
  • Jace, the Mind Sculptor - This is a ridiculous card, but I'm willing to believe Modern can handle it—if only to shut up everyone who argues that Nahiri, the Harbinger and Emrakul are more powerful.
  • Seething Song - I freely admit that this one is speculative on my part and likely a bad idea, but it is possible that the addition of more targeted discard and better hate cards would keep Storm down sufficiently even with the Song. It's probably still really broken, but it costs enough that I am willing to give it another shot. I also like the card and enjoy Storm, so this is a convenient excuse to play them.

So there you have it: the six cards I'm actively eyeing and the three I'm willing to be convinced to try. What happens next? You!

Your Voice, Your Choice

For one week, until my next article goes up, I will be watching this article's comment section. Post which card you want me to test next and why. I will test the card that receives the most votes.

Every reader who posts a preference will have their first, and only their first, card request counted. You can double-post or make multiple requests to your heart's content—only the first card from the earliest post will be counted. Any request not on the approved list or which I specifically said I wouldn't test will be discounted. Only posts made here on Modern Nexus in the comments section of this article will be counted. I encourage you to discuss it as much as you want elsewhere, but trying to scour the internet for every forum post on the subject won't be feasible for me.

If this goes like last time, I should have results from the first test around April, 2017. Join me next week when I announce the winner and continue the Beginner's Guide.

Avatar photo

David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

View More By David Ernenwein

Posted in Modern, OpinionTagged , , , ,

Have you joined the Quiet Speculation Discord?

If you haven't, you're leaving value on the table! Join our community of experts, enthusiasts, entertainers, and educators and enjoy exclusive podcasts, questions asked and answered, trades, sales, and everything else Discord has to offer.

Want to create content with Quiet Speculation?

All you need to succeed is a passion for Magic: The Gathering, and the ability to write coherently. Share your knowledge of MTG and how you leverage it to win games, get value from your cards – or even turn a profit.

93 thoughts on “Banned List Testing: Rules and Possibilities

  1. Awesome article and idea!

    Please test Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I’d prefer that you test it in UW Midrange with Omens, Finks, Clique, Resto, etc. This is my bread and butter since 2011 – like JB2002 (Junichiro Bando). As you may or may not already know, I’m the community founder/manager of the Modern UWx Midrange/Control community on FB. I’ve been sharing my test results and I’m currently 24-8 in the past 6 test sessions. I’d love to see how Jace, the Mind Sculptor works here as I feel it would curve beautifully after Omens and Finks. The deck can sometimes run out of gas, and Jace, tMS would be able to pull the deck out of the mud better than Jace, AoT.

    Here is the list:

    Creatures (15)
    3 Restoration Angel
    3 Kitchen Finks
    2 Vendilion Clique
    1 Dragonlord Ojutai
    4 Wall of Omens
    2 Snapcaster Mage

    Planeswalkers (1)
    1 Gideon Jura

    Enchantments (2)
    2 Detention Sphere

    Spells (17)
    3 Spell Snare
    1 Condemn
    2 Negate
    1 Blessed Alliance
    3 Cryptic Command
    4 Path to Exile
    3 Supreme Verdict

    Lands (25)
    4 Flooded Strand
    3 Celestial Colonnade
    2 Hallowed Fountain
    2 Glacial Fortress
    1 Cavern of Souls
    1 Eiganjo Castle
    3 Island
    3 Plains
    1 Mystic Gate
    1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
    4 Ghost Quarter

    Sideboard (15)
    2 Dispel
    2 Negate
    1 Celestial Purge
    1 Blessed Alliance
    1 Supreme Verdict
    1 Vendilion Clique
    2 Stony Silence
    2 Rest in Peace
    1 Timely Reinforcements
    1 Dragonlord Ojutai
    1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

    Thank you!

      1. With Jace, the Mind Sculptor:

        Creatures (14)
        2 Restoration Angel
        3 Kitchen Finks
        2 Vendilion Clique
        1 Dragonlord Ojutai
        4 Wall of Omens
        2 Snapcaster Mage

        Planeswalkers (3)
        1 Gideon Jura
        2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

        Enchantments (1)
        1 Detention Sphere

        Spells (17)
        3 Spell Snare
        1 Condemn
        2 Negate
        1 Blessed Alliance
        3 Cryptic Command
        4 Path to Exile
        3 Supreme Verdict

        Lands (25)
        4 Flooded Strand
        3 Celestial Colonnade
        2 Hallowed Fountain
        2 Glacial Fortress
        1 Cavern of Souls
        1 Eiganjo Castle
        3 Island
        3 Plains
        1 Mystic Gate
        1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
        4 Ghost Quarter

        Sideboard (15)
        2 Dispel
        2 Negate
        1 Celestial Purge
        1 Blessed Alliance
        1 Supreme Verdict
        1 Vendilion Clique
        1 Detention Sphere
        2 Stony Silence
        2 Rest in Peace
        1 Timely Reinforcements
        1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

        I don’t know if it would really need the 3rd Jace in the board.

        1. An interesting deck, but should Jace win it will be a 4-of in whichever deck I use. A) Why wouldn’t you play a full set of Jace? B) If I’m testing a specific card I want to maximize my chances of that card having a visible impact.

          1. Thank you. That makes sense for testing, so then I’d likely cut 1 Ojutai and 1 Supreme Verdict/Cryptic Command. I don’t want more than 12 4+ cmc in the main.

            I do agree that 4 Jace, tMS would crush in a deck like this, but I wouldn’t want to dilute the midrange/value pressure plan, either. There’s been a nice balance of Creatures/Spells ratio; like a reactive BGx. I think I’d probably end up going with 3/1 split between main and side if it proved to be that good here.

          1. I also vote for Jace.
            Since we are going to test Jace, I think this build could work pretty well:

            -1 Restoration Angel , it lowers our 4+ drops and tons of creatures right now overwhelms them (Mainly Tarmogoyf, Eldrazis, Colonnades, Tasigurs etc, and it might be not valuable enough).
            -1 Spell Snare
            +1 Pact Of Negation
            +1 Jace TMS
            Snare is dead in a lot of matchups, while we can easily afford 1x Pact of negation.its an all star at protecting our threats and letting us tap for our big drops while having a “force of will” effect backup.
            And of course, the 4th copy of Jace
            I am not sure about Gideon, but I guess it is pretty solid, even if its not insane.

  2. I would love to see Jace tested. I know a lot of people don’t think it’s a good idea but the card does nothing against the top 8 or 9 decks of the format. It would also give blue control decks a little boost for the people that want to play Ux reactive control.

  3. I would LOVE to see you test something like an Ad Nauseam, Delver, or Storm deck with Preordain. I know the card is potent, but it sees fringe play in Legacy (where Brainstorm and Ponder are the preferred 1-2 punch). It also only see 3 cards if you scry both to the bottom and then draw. I don’t mean to downplay it too much, as I think it’s still very powerful, but I would like to see it tested in order to see just HOW powerful.

  4. ** DARK DEPTHS **

    Also, why not do your testing on Cockatrice? It auto-saves game replays; is much easier to use; is free to download and free to get cards, build decks, and make games; and plays like paper Magic so a misclick can’t throw off a game.

  5. Would love to see some testing done with Preordain. Unless another great 1 mana removal spell is printed into modern we need more combo to check the aggro in the format. Preordain is also self correcting in that yes it makes combo more reliable but at the same times allows fair decks in blue to more easily find their anti combo tech.

  6. Jace, the Mind Sculptor

    I have a play set just collecting dust. And if infect can kill me on turn 2/3 often, then i want to be allowed to play a card of my choice on turn 4.

    And i agree with your Jund comment. That deck just always seems good and competitive. Throw control a decent bone to play. I have had to resort to Narset. 🙁

  7. “Jund is a very good deck. It has been since Modern’s inception. The only times it hasn’t been Tier 1 were when something very odd was going on in the metagame. It has reached Tier 0 levels in the past when it had access to some of the banned cards.”

    ….Sure. I can agree with this thought process.

    ” Will the boost to whatever deck you care to name actually be greater than the boost Jund receives? No. It won’t.”

    But we DON’T KNOW that, and it’s very frustrating for the author to hand-wave this (and not testing Twin, to a lesser extent) as “We already know how good it’d be.” That’s why the testing! The entire point of this is to find that out!

    If you don’t want to test it, just say so (as you do elswhere), but don’t pretend to know something unknowable.

    1. I do know that. Legacy Jund is able to hang with the blue decks on the back of these banned cards, Hymn to Tourach and sometimes Sylvan Library. Allowing Jund to become more of a Legacy deck is a bad idea. Deathrite Shaman is fairly ubiquitous and Punishing Fire has a few homes, but Bloodbraid Elf only sees play in Legacy Jund (I searched a lot of results). If Elf is boosting Jund instead of a Naya or Temur deck in Legacy, it is a safe assumption that it has a more profound impact on Jund that any other deck. Thus the Modern impact will be larger as well.

      Think of it like this: If I arbitrarily assign Elf an expected impact score, say 5, and I add it to existing decks that could run it with 20 (Jund, Tier 1), 15 (Kiki-chord Tier 2), and 10 points (Temur Midrange Tier 3), for the impact of Elf to be worth it to the format it would need to nearly double the power of the next best home to come close to the impact it would have on the best deck. And that’s the best case of an non-multiplicative impact on the best deck. That’s why I’m confidant in my assessment of the Jund banned cards.

      1. “I do know that”

        As the previous post said, this is literally impossible. There is always the possibility that eg naya zoo gets more of a benefit from bbe than Jund but without testing we have no idea.

        “Legacy Jund is able to hang with blue decks”

        Really?! Jund is like 1% of legacy, this is like saying Jund is able to hang with pre banning eldrazi. Also, legacy Jund having access to deathrite (possibly the best creature ever printed) hymn, wasteland, library, punishing fire and ABUR duals makes this a bit of a ridiculous comparison not to mention the fact that bbe is rarely a 4 of.

        As for why bbe isn’t seeing play in zoo or rug, well zoo is basically unplayable for various reasons (eg delver, true name, terminus) and rug is a tempo deck that curves out at 2 for goyf and has no interest in playing a four drop.

        As for your bit about impact score, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at. It sounds like you’re saying Jund and zoo would both go up 5 in which case zoo got a bigger boost because it is now 1.5x stronger while Jund is only 1.25x stronger. But maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

        “I’m confidant of my assessment…”

        Very clever

    1. Personally I agree entirely with the premise here. Also consider that Top is on the short list of cards WoTC will NEVER consider unbanning. It’s not just bad for round times, it’s bad for coverage. It literally hurts their bottom line. Testing a hypothetical that will never come to pass seems a waste of time to me.

    2. I think it was completely justified. Miracles players will float a win condition for several turns to try to win a match 1-0. It is a scumbag move. That may not be said in the rulebook, but it is still using the clock to win.

    3. We don’t need a miracles bracket in modern too. As time would pass, people would get acquainted with top, but in the first 6-12 months are its unban rounds would go to time in a much more drastic fashion than what you see already.

  8. I strongly believe that Preordain is the most reasonable unban target out of the cards you listed.

    Ponder and Preordain were banned because they made Twin and Storm too good. Now that Twin is banned, and Storm is struggling for breathe since the Seething Song ban and Eidolon printing, the landscape is vastly different.

    I’m wondering what combo deck you think Preordain would make too consistent, because I just don’t see it happened. First of all I see Preordain possibly helping out the new Thing in the Ice-based combo decks that have been popping up, like Suicide Bloo and Thing Ascension. And maybe it will help Storm put itself back on the map as well. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that any of these decks would be too good with Preordain legal.

    Grishoalbrand/Grixis Vengeance is a little bit more worrisome. However, the deck is still pretty easy to disrupt via maindeck-able discard and countermagic. I think there is a small chance that Preordain maybe puts this deck into breaking the turn 4 rule range, but if that were the case I thinking a banning of Goryo’s Vengeance would be more appropriate.

    I believe that fair, interactive decks (particularly those of the blue variety) need a boost in Modern, as do a lot of players. Unfortunately, this cannot be easily achieved directly by unbanning cards. SFM would just slot into BGx, not blue decks as many people seem to think. JTMS would be a very bad addition to the format, in my opinion, since he doesn’t help the fair decks with any of their current problems. JTMS encourages players to go under or over him with fast aggro or ramp strategies. He’s too polarizing of a card: broken in fair mirrors, and useless otherwise. The end result would be an equally linear metagame, with blue decks costing $800 more but not being any better positioned.

    With this in mind, I think the best way to help the fair interactive decks is to do so by allowing syngergy-based, easy to disrupt combo decks to exist. Decks like Infect and Splinter Twin are good for the format, in my opinion, because they reward opponents for interacting rather than just focus on their own game plan. We need decks that punish decks like Bant Eldrazi and Dredge that are very difficult to interact with. I think enabling some more combo decks via Preordain is possibly the right way to go about this.

    So, in summary, I believe that a very useful test for you to do would be Preordain in Goryo’s Vengeance, or maybe in Storm.

  9. Out of the card you’re willing to put to the test, I’m personally under the belief that each card here 99% sure belongs on the ban list with the potential exceptions of Dig Through Time, Dark Depths & JTMS.

    Chrome Mox only really promotes combo focused decks looking to goldfish you in the first 2-3 turns of the game and Chalice filled prison style decks looking to punish those decks. Both of those I see as unhealthy for the format.

    Seething Song is an easy “No.”

    On a side note.. I’m torn on Green Sun’s Zenith. It adds a lot of consistently and early ramp to green based Zoo style decks with a limited toolbox (Pridemage/Rec Sage, Gaddock Teeg, Scavenging Ooze), but I’m not sure that deck would actually be “format warping”. Elves is what actually scares me about the card.

  10. I would like to see Seething Song. Storm is a fringe deck from the statistics, dipping in and out of tier 3 as months roll along. I cannot recall it even having a good run at a single major event where a meta was demonstrated to be particularly good for it. Eidolon of Rhetoric and Eidolon of the Great Revel are also very strong answers to storm to begin with.

    The way I look at it, an unbanning of Seething Song would lead to three possible decks worth testing: Grapeshot Storm, Dragonstorm, and a RG Titanbreach. The first two are obvious, but maybe moreso I’m interested in seeing whether there is enough consistency from Song as a 4 of in a through the breach deck to go “turn 3, song, breach titan/emrakul/griselbrand.” Hell turn 2 if there’s a Simian Spirit guide. It sounds completely degenerate, but once you start talking three and four card combos resiliency goes out the window. And that’s how the old school healthy meta forms: combo being faster than aggro, but far more vulnerable to disruption that allows control to enter the format. RG Titan is a solid deck, and goryo’s vengeance is an inconsistent reanimator that occasionally goes on a run at a big tournament once or twice a year. It isn’t so much about whether song helps these decks, but are the decks improved AND there are no common decks that stand a chance against them (including common decks updated slightly to compete in a meta where these song/breach decks may exist).

    My two cents.

  11. Test Jace The Mind Sculptor. I think this will have a higher chance of an impact then Ancestral Visions. But I think it’ll suffer the same issue. It’s to slow and it doesn’t win or stabilize when it comes down. Games will be over before any meaningful advantage will be gained by Jace.

  12. I would greatly like to see dig through time tested. I thibk it is a very powerful card, but it got swept up in the delver cruise mayhem and didn’t get a fair trial. I think it would up the consistancy of combo decks but it would also help control, getting a good dig card for UU could really help true, draw go control as well as combo. Mostly i would like to see if it would help old blue scapeshift, not these degenerate RG titan shift list’s. Great article.

  13. Thanks for the article, this series is fascinating. I’d be most interested in seeing chrome mox tested as I feel that efficient answers to most broken decks exist in modern and that the speed of the decks is the issue in most cases. Mox gives reactive and midrange decks an early ramp for interactive spells and, in a similar way to disrupting shoal, makes modern more about tempo and less about card advantage which is the reality of the format.

  14. I think Jace, DTT and to some extent Preordain are worth the testing.

    I’ve already voiced this in other forums. To me Preordain targets too many decks, including very unfair ones like Ad Nauseam and Reanimator. I don’t buy the “lets me dig for answers more efficiently” premise.
    Also, i think Modern’s banlist is pretty ok, some cards could come off because they can make the format more interesting. The card that i think it would or could slow down the format is Baleful Strix.

  15. Thanks for the article. I look forward to reading more.

    I disagree with tossing Bloodbraid Elf aside so quickly though. The other cards are banned for good reason, and should stay as such. If you look at their justification for banning BBE, however, you’ll find that they simply needed “a Jund card that other decks weren’t running at the time” so they picked one, and it happened to be the elf. The card itself wasn’t a problem. And we all know that it made no difference (because the real problem was deathrite shaman).
    Kalitas is probably better. The elf is long overdue coming back off the list, and it won’t power up Jund significantly (this is the only card on the list i’d feel confident talking about in these terms, because so much testing has been done on that one card).

    Include bloodbraid elf, I suggest. It’s a wildly safer and more reasonable option than seething song. Or not, it’s your choice. But the throwaway attitude of discounting it alongside other truly broken cards is a bit weird, and I think you should reconsider.

    1. Personally, my feeling on Bloodbraid is we already know what will happen. The card was banned erroneously (when Deathrite was the true offender), and subsequent tournaments saw little to zero change in Jund’s dominance. The pro community widely believes (and has written) that BBE is eminently safe to unban. I’d rather see testing results with harder-to-evaluate cards.

      1. Makes sense. 🙂

        You may want to slot that into your article, haha.

        Let’s see how it pans out. I’ve done some jtms testing myself, on a smaller scale, and found it to be completely safe against the existing fast decks in the format. It could be a powerful tool against midrange, so bringing back jtms could result in a drop of Jund/Abzan in terms of their usual dominance.

        Looking forward to your insight.

        I did feel like your ultimate conclusion about stoneforge was too narrow (like you jumped a few steps to get to your final suggestion, and it didn’t take into account a lot of important stuff), and I personally don’t know how to avoid that without bringing in a whole testing team (!!!). Let’s hope that whatever you find this time around will allow for a decent general outcome, for you as a writer and potentially for Wizards to see as well, because you can bet your bottom dollar they are reading this series!

  16. I’d love to see Dig Through Time tested. I like to hope that it would actually help control a good bit, and if it helps combo a bit, that might be not entirely bad because of combo’s quelling of absolutely minimally-interactive aggro. Thanks a lot for this program!

  17. I’d like to see Jace tested. I think blue control could really use a boost in modern, and that jace could help. I also think, given that infect can win on t2, that Jace is unlikely to lead to anything broken. I think modern is just too fast

  18. would force spike be what the format needs to even things out a little? honestly i think the format is pretty healthy. the top played deck according to your website occupies less than ten percent of the meta. control variants from grixis, jeskai, and mono u tron put up good numbers. considering that wizards has supported these archetypes, like in the case of mono u tron, printing warping wail and filigree familiar, i think that we should enjoy the diversity while it lasts.

    1. Okay…I play Blue Tron and let me say this:

      The deck sucks.

      You are in a hole against burn, elves, infect, bogles, affinity, hatebears and merfolk, not to mention random losses to eldrazi where they play cavern of souls. The only time U Tron has any chance of accomplishing anything is when you play against other tron decks and 3 color midrange/control that are trying to play fair. I love playing actual control decks, but U Tron hovers around tier three, so to say it puts up good numbers is lazy or dishonest.

      And no, wizards did not print warping wail and filigree familiar to support modern archetypes – in fact my testing those cards, plus spatial contortion, fail to move the needle much because they are just too damn slow when your opponent goes turn 1 goblin guide.

  19. I vote for preordain. I don’t know if it’s safe to unban, so I think that’s a good test subject to see if it would break combo decks.

    My second choice would be the artifact lands. I agree with the other poster who said that Jace is probably fine to unban, particularly as he doesn’t really fill a hole/need for control decks, he’s just a great card (but no unbanning both Jace and SFM! I’ve tested that a bit and that’s just a broken combination). BBE also seems fine to me.

    Ultimately though, I’m okay with no unbans as the format is pretty good.

  20. Artifact Lands.

    Though I do feel that they will be better in Tezzeret than affinity.

    Of the other cards you mention I only feel like Dark Depths has a chance to be unbanned. Jace is possibly not too powerful, but Modern does not need the massive price increase to any deck packing blue that an unban would cause.

  21. Very interesting, and I’m glad you’re willing to do more testing after the whole SFM grind. So first things first, my vote is for testing:

    The best “combo” decks in Modern right now, as per your rankings, are Infect, Dredge, TitanBreach/Shift, and Ad Nauseam (cutting off at 2% metagame share). Of these, only AN would play Preordain, and given that those lists are pretty tight, the likely outcome is cutting Sleight of Hand, which is definitely an improvement, but I doubt it takes a tier 2 deck and suddenly makes it oppressive. Storm would also benefit, but again, the deck is so bad right now that getting an upgrade is unlikely to skyrocket its meta share. Other tier 3 combos get helped by this too, but once again the danger seems rather minimal, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a tier 1 combo deck anyhow. If it turns out to be safe, it can also help Control decks by being better card selection than Serum Visions.

    Now for the sake of fun and debating, my 2 cents on the other options, in order that you presented them:

    Artifact lands:
    As an Affinity player, I concur that we don’t want these. I expect they would make our game 1 win % even higher, but the deck is already great at picking up game 1. Against the hate, our entire manabase being artifacts makes the deck completely crumble, and Stony Silence/Kataki both become hard locks. Perhaps it helps some other deck, but making our post-SB games even worse than they are now is not what Affinity needs. If they don’t break another deck, they could probably come off the list.

    I have very little experience with this card, but Wizards has shown time and again that cheap/repeatable tutors aren’t what they want for Modern. I’d be curious to see testing, but I doubt it’s ever coming off.

    Chrome Mox:
    People are already whining about Simian Spirit Guide, and this card serves pretty much the same purpose. Prison and combo decks would love this, and I doubt any other decks would really use it. Also, imo WotC is very unlikely to unban it.

    Dark Depths:
    I’d be interested to see testing results for this. I wasn’t playing when Extended was a thing, so I don’t have old nightmares about the card, and frankly don’t know enough about the kind of deck that would be built around this to theorycraft whether it would break the format or not.

    While it is true that DTT payed for the sins of Treasure Cruise, it eventually had to be banned in Legacy because it was still too strong and the decks which previously ran cruise just swapped them and kept on trucking. Obviously Legacy and Modern are different animals, but I think the card’s power is not to be understated. For amusement I’d be curious, but I really doubt this works out.

    Jace, TMS:
    This was originally my first pick, because I liked the idea of throwing Blue-based Control a bone, I don’t think it break the format due to how fact it currently is, and it looks hella fun to play with. However, upon reflection, I realized that JTMS only helps against decks that a deck like Jeskai is already favored against. Does it make your BGx matchup much easier? Sure, but Jeskai is generally favored against BGx anyway and tons of great SB cards exist to press that advantage as it is. JTMS does nothing to help Jeskai beat Bant Eldrazi, Dredge, Tron and Titan decks, which are the reason it is struggling in the first place. The card is powerful and exciting, but it “solves” a problem that the deck doesn’t have. I think it could come off the list, but it’s not the solution people are hoping it will be.

    Seething Song:
    Again, not much experience here. Storm is not even Tier 3 right now, so I doubt it breaks that deck. There are a few other decks that might run it, but nothing I can picture running over the format. Could be wrong though.

  22. My vote here has a split decision–
    Preordain is probably the card with the greatest likelihood to be able to come off of the list, followed by seething song. Preordain is the card for which evidence of its impact could most speed up the progress of the reduction in size of the ban list.

    Dig through Time is the card I most want to see removed from the list, from among the candidates you specified. I feel that it never truly had a chance to be judged on its own merits and that it took the fall alongside treasure cruise. However, I definitely think that it had a power level that could put it in a position of being a potential ban candidate anyway.

    JTMS is the card that most deserves to be removed from the ban list. It can’t be cast until turn four, it cannot end the game on turn four, and in fact casting it on turn four on an empty board does not even come close to virtually guaranteeing a won game–many decks can just ignore it. Finally, it is a card that CANNOT be played effectively in a noninteractive deck–this card can do absolutely nothing in the format except raise the interactivity level for everyone.

    I think I’ll place my vote for Jace, the Mind Sculptor because, of cards on the banned list, he sits there as a result of his t2 banning being so close in time to the creation of the modern format, and price/reprinting concerns. Given that WOTC has demonstrated they can reprint him in eternal masters sets, and that the MMxx sets provide a way to reprint him, I think market concerns are out the window, so there is no reason for a four mana card that cannot contribute effectively to a linear gameplan and which is several turns slower than Nahiri at ending the game to remain on the ban list. I exclusively play draw-go shells in modern and I don’t even think I’d play jace, and I have a pair of WWK foils sitting unused in a binder.

  23. Even though my banlist wishlist card is Preordain, the card I vote for is JTMS. Partly because of his notoriety, partly because I see him at first glance to be a more extreme unban than Preordain (even if that isn’t necessarily the case to the savvy player), and partly because he’ll be played overall in less decks, which makes for easier and more authentic testing.

  24. Please test Jace the Mind Sculptor!

    He has a clear deck he fits into is – Jeskai Control – and there is very little to change as mostly it already plays a 4x planeswalker finisher. Although various people have already correctly pointed out that Jace doesn’t improve the worst matchups removing a totally dead card (Emrakul) would be great and I’d just love to see such a powerful card in action.

  25. I vote for Jace since I believe it is the safest unban. I will be curious to see depths too though.

    I think that fast mana (chrome mox and seething song) isn’t where wizzy wants to be.
    Artifact lands will power up krack clan ironworks/eggs decks in a way that will dangerously resemble to fast mana.
    DTT, GSZ, ponder and preordain are tutor or pseudo-tutor and will give too much consistency to decks (it’s why they were banned in any case: I can’t see why it would be different now).

  26. Hello,

    I’m interested in Dig Through Time.

    I am playing a draw-go style Grixis list called Cruel Control and our deck desperatly need a good mid-game draw spell (and instant speed is prefered).

    I have tried Ancestral Vision, Steam Augury, Thoughtflare, Jace’s Ingenuity, etc but they where all a bit clunky, slow or highly costed.

    Esper draw-go has all the fun with Esper Charm and Sphinx’s revelation…

    I could very much see myself cut Anticipate for Dig Through Time and maybe add Thought Scoure to fuel it.

    Good luck with your tests,

  27. I vote for Preordain.
    I would like to see if adding only one of the two banned cantrips, the weaker one, would break some of the combo decks now in tier 2 or less. I also wonder which deck would be the more suited for such a test. You were mentioning Storm, or maybe Ad Nauseam?

  28. Personally would like to see Chrome Mox tested.

    I think that Depths is being severely underestimated. Depths can realistically kill turn 3-4 backed by heavy disruption in the form of discard, and can readily incorporate a tarmagoyf backup plan. The combo is also significantly harder to interact with than, say, Twin.

  29. Jace the Mind Sculptor PLEASE. Blue control players need some tools against modern metagame.

    Control is in a really bad position, we have a turn 3 – 4 format and still debate if brainstorm for four mana is too strong.

    Come on… bant eldrazi and tron have ancient stirrings…

  30. My vote goes to Preordain, but it was a tough call between Preordain, JTMS, and Dig Through Time. I choose Preordain because I see blue’s weaknesses in Modern very differently than I think many players do. Blue gets criticized for not having a “real hard answer” in a card like Counterspell, or a “real finisher” like JTMS. I agree that these things would be nice, but I think the primary reason blue suffers in Modern is because we lack, in my mind, blue’s greatest strength in it’s consistency tools that other Eternal formats get. Shoot, right now red arguably has better consistency tools than blue does thanks to the bevvy of draw 3’s recently printed. I want to see if the fair decks can get access to better consistency, thereby making blue’s other weaknesses less relevant, without allowing U based combo decks to create an unhealthy environment.

    As a second point, I also think that all three of the U cards on your list achieve the same purpose of slowing the format down by making U better against aggro. Of the options available, I think Preordain can have the most homes, and therefore would make the largest format impact were it to be unbanned.

  31. Dig Through Time.

    I suspect the card will still be too strong but as you said I don’t think it got it’s fair chance and got banned as a bundle with Cruise.
    I’m interested in most cards you mentioned anyway tho.

  32. Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

    I have a different request about this card though. I’d like to know how expensive it’d get if it were unbanned in Modern. People keep saying that they want it unbanned, but I’m thinking that unless you own 4 you’ll have to learn how to turn shit into gold to afford them. There’s no easy way to reprint JTMS either. This actually seems like it could be the biggest issue with unbanning JTMS. The Nahiri/Emrakul argument is true for Modern I think. Cards have very different power levels depending on what format they are played in.

    1. Speaking as someone who gleefully drafted Eternal Masters into the ground, I can say that Jace, the Mind Sculptor at mythic rare does not harm an expert-level draft environment. WotC could easily include it in a Modern Masters product. Wouldn’t be any worse than Tarmogoyf, and it would see far less play.

  33. Green Sun’s Zenith and Dark Depths seem the more reasonable unbans to me, and therefore I’d like you to test these two.

    On a minor note, I do think unbanning Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod and Vault of Whispers would be a mistake. Affinity would benefit too much and it’s already a tier 1 deck. However, that argument doesn’t hold for Ancient Den and Tree of Tales. There’s no such thing as competitive white or green based Affinity. Such decks exist, but they don’t put up any relevant result. Therefore putting all artifact lands together is a bit missleading.

    My hypothesis is the only thing Ancient Den and Tree of Tales would do would be incourage people to test different variations of Affinity, thus increasing diversity.

    I think Wizards put the artifact lands together to make things easier, but it was super irrational.

    I think Tree of Tales and Ancient Den are safe unbans and therefore I’d like to see them tested.

    1. The only artifact land possibility that is anywhere near “safe” to unban is Tree of Tales. Affinity is rarely white now, but given the land Affinity can very easily shift into a Tempered Steel build without having to worry about the WW casting cost. That may or may not be better than the current affinity, but the tools it gains easier access to are extremely significant. Look at Dispatch, or the new non artifact 3/2 first strike dwarf for W.

  34. David, gotta give you major props for doing all that stone forge mystic testing, it sounded brutal but was a really interesting read. Also, major props for be willing to do it again!

    You’ve also clearly created the most commented on article here, and one of the most I’ve seen ever on any site – way to hit on something that people clearly care a lot about. 🙂

  35. I think Green Sun’s Zenith is seriously worth testing. The deck I’d test it with is probably some GR Valakut variation, or a creature value toolbox deck, but I think titan decks are ones most likely to get busted. There’s just nothing this card does that’s unfair in the context of modern’s current speed.

  36. Already voted for Jace TMS but I really think that the only blue card that could impact control decks into a good shape in this linear metagame is DTT. It’s the only tool we miss: a way to search for answers consistently and I think it is far better than Jace in THIS metagame, where is hard to interact due to how opressive linear decks are.

    1. Yes, i have the same feeling about Jace vs DTT, but i think that Jace is more safe for control decks.

      DTT can help some combo decks to be more consistent searching his pieces.

      I doubt that a 4 mana sorcery brainstorm can help them.

      When i play DTT in control i love it, but i understand the power of search a combo (and maybe a way to protect the combo) in 7 cards.

      Sorry for my english 🙂

  37. Dig Through Time

    As already stated, Dig was viewed as the obvious alternative to Treasure Cruise, and was banned because it appeared to offer similar degeneracy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the intent of banning Dig alongside Cruise was to aggressively shift the meta away from the powered delver deck.

    Now that the meta has so heavily shifted, I think Dig is likely to return to the modern format. It seems like it would be a powerful card to bring blue combo and control back into the format.

    Modern isn’t a weak format. From my perspective, Dig Through Time is comparable in power level to Collected Company, Become Immense, and other powerful spells currently legal and seeing play in modern. I would like you to test Dig Through Time so I can see how wrong or right I am.

  38. My vote is for Dig Through Time.

    I would really like to see is this card actually deserved is banning or whether it was just collateral damage from Treasure Cruise. I don’t think it was ever given a fair shake, and I don’t believe it is as powerful in modern as it was in the eternal formats, but I’m open to being wrong. I think at this point most delver variants also have a lot of competing options for their graveyard resources in Tasigur, Angler, Snapcaster, Reveler (doesn’t actualy eat cards, but needs them in the yard to be playable), Grim Lavamancer, so at the very least, I would think they would have to choose between these options.

  39. Seething song and chrome mox are the most worrisome to me; ad nauseam could get stronger, and possibly storm. The others i think merit investigation. That being said, testing would help confirm what otherwise is just an opinion. Caleb durward has investigated some of these cards as well. Chrome mox made modern belcher a thing!

      1. First some info about me…

        I joined magic at the end of unlimited, and introduced it to friends.
        At one point I was told by a friend that I was the worlds worst registered player, so I started using computer simulations during the end of “ice age”, and got better as a result.
        Fastforward 10 years spent on manasimulations.

        I now refrain from calling any simulated manasolution a manacurve, because they really aren’t all curving. I also realized that fixing the mana alone wasn’t enough to win, but I had become a player that occasionally beat the pro’s.

        Fastforward 5 years.

        My computer broke down, and at that time I had started using paperstrips to answer simple stuff on deck-behavior (Is 4 raging goblins better than 3 raging goblins and a swords to plowshares)

        Fastforward 5 years.

        I never replaced my computer as no simulation can play magic like a pro, instead I use paperstrips as a computational tool to solve anything involving deckbuilding.

        It takes some time to learn the process, but let me give an example:

        Looking over modern naya-burn, one could actually wonder why noone uses the R/G attackland in it. Arguably it slows down the mana, and can only be of use lategame, so it might be scorned for these reasons.

        In many games where I used burn, it would eventually run out of gas, so against some matchups it might be an idea to use attacklands. After all it’s three colors so there will be three types of attacklands available.

        The whole trouble is how to test this in as fast a way as possible.

        The way I would do it with paperstrips is that I would slip down a paperstrip in each dual land, and then play against goldfishes to see if it is actually affordable to have some lands turn into taplands. During each game such a land would be drawn I would note down on the paperstrips if it was possible to use it as an attackland without slowing down the deck. (It’s rather easy to do this) I would use a simple strip with the words “slowed” and “good” and write a smiley at the one that worked. Once a word would have 5 smileys more than the other word I would replace the strip and card within with the solution the strips came up with and I would know if it was possible to replace a dual with an attackland at that exact moment. If it worked I would continue the process to see how many more lands could be exchanged.

        That’s the essence of the method, and I’ve used it to build some moderndecks.
        The process can be used to test a multiple of cards at the same time (for example testing if ghost quarter is better than an attackland) which allows the paperstrips to actually work out an evolutionary process, where you just ride along and the paperstrips build the deck for you. (That’s the advanced use of it)

        Since you are ready to do 500 games to get answer, I can tell you that this process will be VERY fast once you’ve learned it and understood it. You take the role as a programmer, and statistical processes and evolution takes over to answer any question.

        It has to be said that when I built simulations I once tested the fastest solution of how to kill a goldsfish with only mountains and lightning bolts. My computer calculated that it would be 16 lands and 44 bolts. I’ve later used paperstrips to solve the exact same problem, and it came up with 15 lands and 45 bolts. There is a slight disagreement there, but it can be due to the difference between a perfectly randomized hand in a computer versus the not really perfect shuffle of playing the deck out physically.

        If you are still interrested I could link you to my two current modern builds that use this process (Be aware that they are really weird, because they weren’t really built by human intelligence. I let the process take over)

        One deck I’ve tested against the 43 most played decks at that time, and it works good during tests, but I fail at tournaments because I haven’t got the same timeframe to think every move over, so I make rash stupid decisions, usually regretted seconds later.

        Paperstrips can be used alone, but the speed will be improved by having live players to use the process against, they can be let in on the progress and come with suggestions, and whenever you get in disagreement over a cardpick, paperstrips can show who is mostly right of you.

        Regards, wickeddarkman.

  40. Thanks for the article, David. I’ve given a lot of thought to unbannings in modern, and I think there are a few cards that could be unbanned “safely”, enabling new decks or powering up tier 2/3 decks. I agree with many of the other people here that Jace would be a way to boost control decks without warping the format, however my vote goes to Dark Depths. I think if Dark Depths was unbanned, it would be strong, but not broken.

    The reason for this is that Dark Depths is relatively easy to interact with, and has a number of drawbacks. As a land that doesn’t tap for mana, playing it effectively sets you back one turn. Ghost Quarter is a card all decks could use in response to the sacrifice trigger, and Marit Lage dies to Path to Exile, the most common removal spell in the format. Without assistance, Marit Lage still has summoning sickness and can be chumped by spirit tokens or Birds, making it a less resilient version of creature-based combo like Infect or Suicide Bloo.

    As far as the other cards go, I would be interested to see if Preordain or Dig Through Time can boost Storm to Tier 1 status. I suspect either one alone would be fine, and both cards would also be a boon to blue-based control. Preordain would simply replace Serum Visions in most decks, and the only real impact would be in decks that run lots of cantrips, like Storm and Ad Nauseam.

    The artifact lands are definitely not useful for affinity, and I would like to see what types of shells they might fit in. I could see them used with Tezzeret, Thopter/Sword, or Krark Clan Ironworks decks, but I get the feeling that they would just make those decks more vulnerable to SB artifact hate, especially Stony Silence. Another thing to consider, as others have said, the artifact lands are not equal in power level. I can’t think of any deck that would want to use Tree of Tales.

    Green Sun’s Zenith is the only other card I think has a chance at becoming unbanned soon. The most obvious deck to benefit would be Elves, and as an Elves player I would love to have GSZ, but I think it would give the deck a level of consistency and explosiveness that would make it tough to handle, even with Pyroclasm and Anger of the Gods.

    Unfortunately, as fun as I think it would be to have Chrome Mox unbanned, another T1 mana accelerant would most benefit decks with Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon – we already see these decks down around tier 3 with just Simian Spirit Guide, and locking your opponent out of the game is not Wizards’ or most players’ idea of fun. Ad Nauseam could also easily slot this card in, moving its critical turn back enough to outrace any decks without countermagic.

    Seething Song needs 3 mana to do anything and only makes red, but I believe Storm would become too fast for fair decks to deal with. I can’t think of other decks that would really make use of Seething Song, so I see no reason to unban it.

    I think that covers all of the cards on the list that could possibly come off the list, along with Stoneforge Mystic, which I actually think might be the safest of them all.

  41. I think it’s too hard to pick a shell to test utility cards like DTT and preordain because there are just so many shells they could go in, and it becomes difficult to pick just one while ignoring the many possible shells to test them in. It would be too easy to pick a deck, test with said card and conclude it raises a certain deck’s win percentage by five percent and deem it safe while another untested shell gains massive points but goes unnoticed. I do admit that I would love to see testing of jeskai ascendancy with DTT though. One of the sweetest decks in the format’s history IMO.

    Having said that, I would love to see jace because he goes into one archetype, blue control, and the results would be much more justifiable.

    Thanks for revisiting this!

  42. Another vote for Dig Through Time. WotC seems determined not to give us a good card selection tool in modern (Still can’t believe we don’t have access to Fact or Fiction!), and I’m curious what it would look like.

    I don’t think Jace is the right unban, since it only punishes the few remaining fair decks, anything degenerate or fairly unfair(?) just goes under it or ignores it.

    1. I don’t have a hard date for the next update, it depends on how quickly I can actually do the testing and then compile the data. I’ve gotten started on Jace, the Mindsculptor but March is the earliest possible, April is more likely. It takes a long time to play 500+ games of Magic when you also have to record everything.

Join the conversation

Want Prices?

Browse thousands of prices with the first and most comprehensive MTG Finance tool around.

Trader Tools lists both buylist and retail prices for every MTG card, going back a decade.